This screen series based on the colorful Marvel characters has proved to be both durable and flexible: having enjoyed a great run in its initial phase, it spun off two Wolverine vehicles for Hugh Jackman (with another on the way) and then rewound the timeline to create a series of prequels, beginning with the excellent X-Men: First Class. Director and co-writer Bryan Singer, who launched X-Men in 2000 has steered this latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse and delivered another winner. (He’s even planted a not-so-subtle in-joke about the first entry he didn’t direct in the series.)
Essentially, the screenplay (credited to series veteran Simon Kinberg, from a story by him, Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris) follows one major through-line: the world’s first and most powerful mutant, Apocalypse, has awoken after thousands of years. Seeing the world as it is in 1983, beset by war and strife, he decides that it must be destroyed in order to be reborn—with him as its unquestioned leader. Although he is unrecognizable under layers of makeup and costuming, this commanding character is played by Oscar Isaac, who in his few short years onscreen has proved to be a rare talent—and something of a chameleon.
Aside from him, you need a scorecard to keep tabs on who’s who and who’s new: we’ve acclimated to the idea that James McAvoy is the younger Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X and Michael Fassbender is Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto), the roles created by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. We’ve also seen Jennifer Lawrence take over the role of Raven/Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast, and Lucas Till as Alex Summers/Havok. Sophie Turner (of Game of Thrones fame) steps into the role of Jean Grey, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is now a German-accented Kurt/Nightcrawler.
Evan Peters, as Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver all but stole X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014. We met Rose Byrne as CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert five years ago in X-Men: First Class. But Tye Sheridan is new to the series, inheriting the role of Alex Summers’ kid brother Scott/Cyclops, and other newcomers include Ben Hardy as Angel, Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Monroe/Storm, Lana Condor as Jubilee, and Olivia Munn as Psylocke, among others.
Whether new or not, the characters’ motivations are crystal-clear and the story unfolds without the clutter one might expect with so many people involved. The action scenes are staged on a grand scale, appropriate to the power of the film’s god-like villain, and the visual effects are spectacular. As usual, Bryan Singer’s longtime editor and collaborator John Ottman also provides the muscular music score.
My only quibble with the picture is its length. When I’m caught up in a movie I become unaware of time, but if I start to feel antsy I know it’s beginning to wear out its welcome. X-Men: Apocalypse is first-rate (first class?) all the way, but I can’t help believing that it would be even better if it told its story more compactly. That’s a relatively small complaint when weighed against the movie’s many assets.